HEAD COACH JOHN HARBAUGH PRESS CONFERENCE
Opening statement: "[It's] good to see everybody. I appreciate you very much. I'm pretty fired up, excited and ready to go. I've been thinking about, just like our players and our coaches do, and probably our fans do, too … All you do is you think every single day, probably more than my [wife], Ingrid, would like for me to, about what we're doing, where we're going, what do we need to do? What's the next step? What's the best decision and what opportunities are we going to have? That's kind of what you think about every second, driving somewhere, or just sitting around, or when you're working, or working out, or whatever, watching tape, that's what we do. So, that's what we've been doing. That's what I've been doing, and I'm excited about it.
"First things first, I just want to express my appreciation for you guys – the media. I appreciate what you did all year. It's been a tough two years. It's been a tough two years for everything. For every meeting we've had, it's been a tough two years, obviously, in the whole world, but not to minimize your jobs. It's a challenge. The Zoom stuff, not as much access [to] players, coaches [and] games, all those kinds of things, and you guys have handled it well. I just appreciate you sticking in there and hanging in there with us when it's challenging and when it's tough and doing the best job you can. So, you guys have been great. You've been fair. You've been tough. It's just been fun. It's been good every single day. I try to appreciate you every single day. When you come to the press conferences, I really mean that every single day when I say thanks for being there, because I appreciate you being there. I appreciate you being here today. It means a lot. And then our fans – it's been a crazy two years with fans, but our fans showed up this year for us. Not every team in the league has a home field advantage, even in the playoffs you see that sometimes. It's pretty awesome to get into our stadium and see our fans and see how excited they are to be there and be a part of it and how much they care. I've run into people around town. The wife and I took a trip for five days; it ended up being a working vacation the past five days [and] I got back last night. But we ran into Ravens fans there – it was Arizona. Man, they were out there, and I had people come up [and say], 'I'm a Ravens fan.' [They had] great things to say, nice things to say and questions to ask. I'll tell you; I know we don't have the biggest fanbase … We have a pretty big fanbase, but we have, I would say, the most passionate fanbase. We have a bunch of fans that really care and really live and die for what we're doing, so that is greatly appreciated. OK, with that, what questions do you have?"
At the end of the season with QB Lamar Jackson, I think initially it didn't seem like it was going to be a major injury, but then he missed [the rest of the season]. Did something happen? Was there some sort of setback that happened during that time? (Jamison Hensley) "Great question. There was not a setback; it was a bone bruise. So, I think early on, right away, you hope for the best with a bone bruise. Those things are really unpredictable. There was a thought, even Lamar [Jackson] … Lamar felt like he was going to be back. The first week, he thought he had a chance. The second week, he assured me, he said, 'I'll be back. I'll be back.' He worked really hard at getting back, but it just didn't really heal. It was in a spot where I've come to understand from the medical people that there's not a great deal of blood flow down there in the low-ankle/foot area where the bruise was. It just didn't heal very quickly, and it was painful. You could see it. He stayed in the boot longer than we thought. He was still limping, even at the end of the season – even in his boot. I saw him in his boot towards the end. I talked to him Saturday; he said it felt great. He said it was really getting better. He felt really confident that he was going to be able to get started. He said that he's starting back to work the day after the Super Bowl – that's his timeframe to get going and be healed up by then. So, that's where he's at with that, and that's what happened."
I know we'll get a chance to talk with defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald Wednesday. I know you put out a statement about parting ways with Don 'Wink' Martindale. I think anyone objectively would acknowledge injuries being a challenge, but when you looked at the defense, what concerned you to feel good about going in a new direction and bringing in a new coordinator? (Luke Jones) "I'm excited about the opportunity going forward. If we just want to talk about the big picture of the defense, certainly you've already mentioned the fact that we're going to be getting guys back. We're going to get two first-round pick corners back, so that's a good place to start. Hopefully, we'll get a couple guys back with signings and things like that. We'll have to see how that plays out. I'm looking forward to that. I'm excited to get going on that and talk to guys. The problem is you have to wait a little bit. You don't get until March to really kind of confirm all that stuff, and then we'll have the Draft and all those things. I feel like we're going to have a talented defense next year. We have some places to shore up and fill in, like everybody, but we have some time to do it. I'm excited about the coaching staff going forward. As I said in the statement – I think the statement pretty much said everything I had to say about it – but it's how I feel. There's a lot of success there. We did really well. We have great coaches. Don [Martindale] is a great coach. He's a proven coach and a great guy. [He's] a guy I've known for a long time. We work really well together, but sometimes, it is just time. I feel like we both felt that way, but in any event, I believe that's the best thing going forward. I'm excited about Mike Macdonald. I'm excited about building that staff right now with Mike and putting the guys together, which we're working on even right now as we speak, and kind of building the defense out again. It's not going to be dramatically different, I don't think, structurally, because you try to build on where you've been before. That's the thing that I think we've done here. That's the great thing about continuity and the great thing about success. There is an amazing tradition of defense here, and it's built on the players that have been here. It's built on the schemes that have been used. It's built on the mindset. It's built on practice. It's built on everything. It's built on the back of a lot of work and guys who do it the way we want to see it done that's developed. We say that the standard is developed and raised by the guys who do it, and those are the guys who have done it going all the way back. So, the guys who are here [and] the coaches who are here feel that pressure to kind of keep building on that. So, where does it go? That's not something that you want to start over on; that's something you want to build on. So, that's the reason for Mike, and that's the reason we went the way we did. We're going to really … I'm excited about where we're going and what we're going to do with that, but we'll talk more about that on Wednesday, I'm sure."
The decision to part ways with Don 'Wink' Martindale and then you go down to the meetings with owner Steve Bisciotti … I don't know how much you can tell us about those meetings and how intense they were, but there has been an outcry about offensive coordinator Greg Roman and his position with the team. Do you look at his stance differently than Don 'Wink' Martindale's in terms of the substantial injuries? You talked about what the defense faced, but the offense seemed to face a lot more. (Jerry Coleman) "It's not so much about any specific thing at all. It's more about as you look at it, it's my responsibility to put the coaching staff together and build it the way I want to build it according to the vision that I have. You always take into account wise counsel, and I've made it my point ... I've made it a business to try to find out and understand what everybody thinks. I even listen to you guys and see what you think sometimes, but it's important. We have a great thing going here, in terms of what you talked about going down there, [owner] Steve [Bisciotti], [executive vice president and general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome], [team president] Dick [Cass], but all through the organization, too, we have great communication. We have great trust and a lot of honest dialogue, always, and that's what you have to do. For me, in my area of responsibilities, it's my job to make the decisions, and that's what I did. So, a lot of factors go into it. A lot of factors go into moving on, [and] a lot of factors go into kind of moving on with the same people. Those are the decisions that have been made, and that's the decisions I've made."
There are a lot of moving pieces right now; there are eight or nine staffs still forming around the league. Is it a lock that offensive coordinator Greg Roman will definitely be back? How do you feel … Why do you feel he's still the right guy? (Jeff Zrebiec) "I mean, nothing is a lock. Nothing is a lock in life, to use that term, but I'm excited about it. I plan on [offensive coordinator] Greg [Roman] being back. I believe Greg plans on being back, but it's still early. We're only three weeks past the season. I know things happen fast for sure, just like you said, but that's the plan, and I'm excited about that. Offensively, we've done some pretty darn good things here over the past three years offensively. I think we have a really good vision and understanding of what we want to build offensively, the players we want to build around and what we need to do it. We came up short this year in a lot of ways. If you look at it and you take a step back, it's kind of interesting what we did. We gained a lot of yards, but we didn't do a good enough job of turning yards into points – that's really what it boiled down to. I think we ranked … It says here we ranked sixth in offensive yards per game, but you knew that, but [ranked] 17th in points. Why? Well, our field position wasn't very good. We didn't do a very good job of establishing field position all the time, because we gave up some yards on defense – that's kind of the deal. We were the third-best offense in football on three-and-outs, which is a good thing, but the problem is we didn't sustain enough drives. So, we'd get two or three first downs, and then we'd get stopped and be forced to punt. We'd punt them down in there, the ball would get pushed out just a little bit and we're backed up again. So, we had, I'd call a number of yards, are they empty yards or yards that didn't translate into points? We didn't do a good enough job in the red zone down the stretch. We had too many turnovers in the red zone. We had a bunch of turnovers in the red zone late, so that cost us points. Field goals are OK, but touchdowns are way better. We had too many field goals when you want to get touchdowns. The other thing that kind of led to that, I think the thing about the drives, not having the three-and-outs is good, but scoring drives, we didn't have enough of those, because, probably, we didn't have enough big plays. We led the league, or we were near the top of the league in big plays early, but the second half of the season, we didn't have hardly any big plays. Watch all these games now that are being played; it's a challenge to go all the way down the field and make plays play after play and put the ball in the end zone and then get it done in the red zone. You need some big plays, you need some easy scores, [and] we just didn't have those. Those are the things you kind of look at and kind of make those decisions. That's offensively the big thing.
"I'll just kind of go through it now, since we're talking offense. You see this when you watch the tape. Our called run game wasn't as good this year as it's been the last couple of years. Our called run game was the best in history in 2019 and 2020, and this year, it just wasn't. Why? We didn't have the explosive plays. We didn't have … We were seventh, I think, in the league in yards before contact, and we were toward the bottom in yards after contact. So, the called run game … Now, our run game is pretty good statistically. We were in the Top 5 in both categories, but it was mostly scramble yards. So, you can credit Lamar [Jackson] for that. You credit Tyler [Huntley] for that. Those guys did a good job of that, and we appreciate that, but we've had those in the past. Those are a big part of what we've done, too. That's why the offense is set up the way it is, but we also had too many sacks. We had too many hurries, too many sacks, which kind of negated some of our scramble yards. The last part of the offensive formula that really hurt us was just too many penalties. [There were] a lot of pre-snap penalties that we have to get cleaned up. Those are penalties that we just don't need to have happen. We're not lining up the right way or we're … You have young guys out there. You try to formation some things up a certain way. We have to look at all that and do much better in the penalty area, because now you're gaining yards, but you're making up for lost yards in penalty yards. So, I think that kind of accounts for the yard discrepancy and the point discrepancy. But I know we can look at that with the coaching staff that we have, build on the players that we have [and] kind of choose our scheme-direction wisely. Let's really take some time … We've talked a lot about this in terms of we have all the elements in our offense. We can name all of the elements. Our RPOs [run-pass options] this year were excellent. We're one of the top couple teams in the league in RPOs. That's not something we've really done that much in the past; it was more quarterback-driven runs and more play-action. Play-action game was great early with all the big plays, but what direction do we want to go in terms of the scheme run game, in terms of the RPOs, in terms of the ball coming out on time in rhythm, in terms of the movement passes, play-action passes off of those runs, no-huddle-type stuff and how do we want to order it? Where do we want to put our resources into? That's where we're going to go to work on the next couple weeks, and you do that based around the players that you have. We know who our quarterback is going to be. We know who certain pieces are going to be, but where are we going with our running backs? Where are we going with our offensive line in terms of building that? Those are places that everybody knows. Can we add a tight end or not? Do we need to add a receiver or not? Those are the things that we'll be looking at."
On the impact of injuries this year, at no point did you ever use that as an excuse. Now with a month to kind of look back at it, how much did the injuries impact [going] 8-9? How did they impact looking at what happened as you do your further analysis going forward? (Mark Viviano) "You're right. It's not something you want to go down a road and say, 'Hey, that's the reason.' I'm never going to say … It's just not right, because injuries happen to every team. I think if you look at it, it is a little cyclical. You go back to 2015, we got impacted with injuries really badly. [In] 2016, we pulled ourselves out of that, and we did really well for a couple of years. This year, we just got smashed with them. You can say it's bad luck. You can say it's fluke. I get that, but I don't feel like we have the luxury to live there. That's not something that we can say that that's it. We have to turn over every stone. We have to look at every possible avenue to do the best we can to make sure this doesn't happen again. That's what we plan on doing. I had a meeting two weeks ago with our performance people. We sat in there for four hours and went over every aspect of what we're doing and what we can do on the football side to try to improve that – from practice schedules, from training camp schedules, from OTAs, from how we train, from how we condition, even how we do our team, all of our modeling in terms of loads and things like that in our team periods and in our individual periods. I mean, man, we're going to look at everything, and we're going to change a lot. I've talked to a lot of our players about that, because in some ways, you don't change for change's sake, but sometimes, you have to make changes in the way you do things. So, in my mind … I wrote this down. I thought it was pretty good, so I'll share it with you, 'Change is inevitable, and growth is required.' That's something that I think it applies to the injury question as much as anything else. We have got to go to work on that thing right there. So, I'm already drawing up practice schedules, and we're putting them into models for loads and things like that to do everything we can do to make sure that we come through as strong as we can be and ready to attack the season when the season starts. So, we're not going to just take it and say it's OK. Something has to be fixed."
How much do you talk to players about their input? (Mike Preston) "I talk to the players a lot about their input, all the time. I feel like every single day, every single time I have a chance to have a conversation with the guys … I just had a conversation with Mark [Andrews] this weekend. I had a conversation with Lamar [Jackson] this weekend. I understand there's a broad range of player feeling about different things. Some guys love what you do; some guys don't love what you do. We try to make it as individualized as we can, and I think that's between coaches and players to understand what they're looking for. There are always guys that like certain things, there are guys that don't like certain things, and I think it's incumbent upon us to understand what those things are, because these guys are pros. You have guys who train in the offseason. Some do better than others – you understand who those guys are. Some are really good at what they do, and they understand themselves really well. You have to understand that those guys have a plan, too, and you need to respect that. So, that's something that we try to chase. It's never going to be perfect. It's never going to be … You can't have 53-plus – you're talking about way more than 53 guys now. [You can't have] everybody saying, 'Oh, everything we do is great,' but we try the best we can to get as much consensus as we can. I'm always asking guys what they think."
This year with TE Nick Boyle and T Ronnie Stanley, obviously, they ended up being two-year injuries. How confident are you in RB J.K. Dobbins, RB Gus Edwards, CB Marcus Peters and those guys that they're going to come back fully healthy next season? (Todd Karpovich) "I'm hopeful. I'm not in the rehabs every day. So, I'm like you guys. I'm hopeful. I'm down there encouraging them. I'm talking to them, and so far, so good. But that was a big surprise. You get into training camp, and you think you're going to have Ronnie [Stanley], and then the next thing you know, he's out for another season. You think Nick [Boyle] is going to be back to start the season, and he's not back until the end, and he was never full speed. But I'm confident and excited about the fact that those two guys should be back full speed next year. Those are two great players. So, put those guys on top of the running backs that you're talking about, I'm prayerful [and] I'm hopeful. I do believe that as an organization, we're going to do everything that we can to make sure that our rehab operation is cutting edge and is at the highest level. That's another piece of that thing; I talked about turning over every stone, that's another stone that's being turned over. That's more on the other side with the other side of the building, but that's a big part of it, also."
Related to that, we haven't gotten a chance to talk to you about OLB Tyus Bowser. Can you confirm, did he tear his Achilles? Do you have any sense of whether he'll be back by early season or mid-season? (Bo Smolka) "Yes, he did tear his Achilles. He had surgery. By all accounts, it went great. They always say that. (laughter) Have you ever had a surgery that you came out and you woke up and the guy goes, 'It didn't go well?' I guess if you woke up, it went well. So, it went well. But I do think it went well, and I do know Tyus [Bowser]. Tyus is going to work. So, I'm pretty excited. I think Tyus will be back for the start of the season. I think Tyus will be back for training camp; that's my prediction. That's my timeline, so I'm going to stick with that."
Just piggybacking off of that, was there any other guy that you know of that was facing offseason surgery? (Ryan Mink) "I don't think so. I had a list here, but I didn't bring it down here with me. I don't think there are any surgeries … We already had one. There was another one that was after the season, can you guys help me with it?" (Jeff Zrebiec: "Derek Wolfe.") "Derek Wolfe. Derek Wolfe was the other one, thank you. So, 'Wolfy' [Derek Wolfe] had a hip labrum surgery. He got his labrum repaired in his hip. So, we'll see how that goes. That's another one that's recoverable from."
There are reports that you're about to sign a new four-year extension. That has to be quite a vote of confidence from owner Steve Bisciotti, obviously, but as it results in going about business this year, how has he … Was he understanding? Like, "Alright, I see. I know the roster you're dealing with, and you guys competed all the way through." Was that his kind of message to you at this point? Obviously, it's a vote of confidence that he's your guy. (Pete Gilbert) "I haven't thought much about that. It's not like it's been him and I having a big conversation about that, in all honesty. It's been more about what we need to do to get better. That's really what the focus is right now. So, I was never worried about it. I do think we have a great thing going in terms of I appreciate and I am grateful for the people in this building, and that starts with the boss. [Owner] Steve Bisciotti is the boss, and he is a great boss. He's insightful. He'll tell you what he thinks. He'll respect your opinion. He'll challenge you. He'll encourage you, all of those things. He's just really good. So, you appreciate that. I'm thrilled to be here. I love being here. I love being a part of this mainly because of him and [executive vice president and general manager] Eric [DeCosta] and [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] and all of the people here. I just love to coach, and that's what I'm thinking about. So, if the Ravens want me still, then I want to be here, and we'll do the best we can as long as we can."
As you went back and assessed QB Lamar Jackson's play overall this year, did you see anything that changed your view of what it would take to build a championship level offense around him? Or in broad strokes, is it the same idea that you came into this year with? (Childs Walker) "Broad stroke – that's a good word. I like that, broad stroke. It's the same idea, for sure. Then you have to dig and dive down into the small brush strokes and try to keep improving all those things. So, Lamar [Jackson] is really determined. The conversations I've had with him, he's really, really determined. He really … I mean, I can't even emphasize enough how determined he is to improve and get our offense where it needs to be. As a coaching staff and as a scouting staff, we want to do our part. We have to trust and rely on Lamar and all the players, and I mean all the players to do their part and to go to work. Like I said, he has a plan to do that, just like all the guys do and go to work and come back here in April better than you were when you left. So, all the things that happened this year, you look at the numbers and stuff like that that were a step back in terms of our offense, and you were talking about Lamar, those are all things that you can look at and you can understand why. But at the same time, that doesn't mean … There's no excuse – that's how he looks at it. So, let's go to work and let's get better at the things we need to get better at, and let's let that talent shine."
You talked about the fight that the team showed throughout the end of the season despite the injuries and the COVID-19 situation. I know you talk about faith a lot; at any point, was there ever something that happened to the roster that took a shot at the faith that you had? Was there anything that happened to the roster down the stretch that you thought, 'This may be it; this may be too big to recover from?' (Cordell Woodland)"No, I never had that thought. I just never had that thought. I felt like every single one of those games we could win, and we will win. I felt like we put good plans together in all those games, and I felt like our players worked really hard. The guys who were playing, they went out there and they worked every practice, and they fought in every single game. What didn't happen is the plays weren't really made that needed to be made down the stretch. Defensively, we didn't get off the field enough in the fourth quarter; that was pretty much a number of times throughout the season, but especially down the stretch. We just weren't able to get a stop. How do you get a stop? You make a play. The play gets made. You watch these games and someone comes up with a play. It's defense flying around, being in a good spot, which our guys did all that, but for whatever reason, we just didn't come up with a play that we needed to get a win down the stretch, and all we really needed was one – I guess, two – down the stretch, and that would have gotten it done for us. So, that's the biggest disappointment. I feel like you want to find a way to help your guys, put them in a position to make a play to win the game, and that's a big disappointment – that we weren't able to do that – but I've got no issue with the effort, the attitude, the fight, as you put it, the competitiveness, the try-hard, all those things.
"And a lot of those young guys who played … We played like – l don't know – 70-something (75) guys this year; I think we started almost 50 (47) players this year at different times, so that's kind of a positive going forward. Those guys … Now, let's see how they grow. So, that's all good. Now, with that experience and what you've learned, where do you go from now until then, when we start practicing again? I'm interested in what they're going to do before we come back. I want to know what they're going to do with their time before we come back and get together, and how much better they are between now and then."
Going back to QB Lamar Jackson and the passing game, the amount of blitzing that kind of started in the Miami game and continued … With Lamar, especially in the past, he had handled the blitz so well. Taking a step back and looking at it in a big-picture sense, why was that such a struggle for him? In the passing game, was there something missing from a schematic standpoint that you guys just couldn't adjust to that? (Luke Jones)"I think we did adjust to it. We made a number of plays after the Miami game. The Cincinnati game … The first Cincinnati game and the Miami game are the two games that it got us, and it really hurt us, and we thought we had a plan. We thought we were in good shape with some of our drop-back passing stuff, and we just didn't hit the plays. You could look at each one of them; sometimes the wrong route was run; sometimes a guy wasn't held off long enough on the protection; sometimes the guy got knocked off his route. There's always a little thing. But in the end, that's all execution, that's all being good at it, and we just weren't good at handling it. So, what we did after the Miami game is we went to work on other alternative answers, and we had a number of other answers: we had runs, we had check-with-me's to screens, we had shot plays, we had pick plays, we had … Really, I would say, every answer that there is in football, we had, and we practiced down the stretch. We dedicate probably 10%, probably, say, 7[%], between 5-10% of our practice time on offense to zero blitz for the whole half of the season after the Miami game, and sometimes the stuff worked and sometimes it didn't. Then sometimes you get blitzed, sometimes it looks like blitz, and you make a blitz check, then all of a sudden, they're running out, like our defense does, and now we're throwing a blitz check into a zone coverage. So, those are all things that we've got to get better at – recognizing those things, also beating those things with base plays, too, and just having those answers. So, to me, it's just us getting good at attacking it. And it's been a priority, but it's got to show up on the field in execution, for sure."
Going back to the two-point conversion decisions, now that you've had a chance to look back on them both, the impact they had on the season, did it cost the team a chance, possibly, to make it to the postseason? And what was the reaction inside the locker room, because we can't poll every player inside the locker room like we used to be able to? (Jerry Coleman)"Yes, you know what the players felt about it, so I'm probably the guy that feels the worst about it. I think the players … Like I said, I was talking to Mark [Andrews], and I was talking to Lamar [Jackson], and it came up, and they're basically saying ... They're basically telling me that I should have done what I did. But would we have won those games in overtime? Nobody knows. So, we had, probably, a 50-50 shot there, and would we have had a 50-50 shot in overtime against some of those quarterbacks we were playing? I don't know. But that's the choice that you made. Having made them now, not knowing what happened, I think I would have done them again – after thinking about it. After knowing what happened, heck no, I'm going to overtime. You know? (bangs podium – laughter) That's easy. I thought about it right away. As soon as we didn't convert, I'm like, 'Damn, I should've kicked it.' That's the first thing I thought, because that's really what it boils down to. You can't say it was the right decision when it didn't work. Just like you can't say it was the wrong decision if it did work. I mean, the bottom line is you want it to work – that's why you do it. So, we'll continue to be aggressive, but we're never going to be irresponsibly aggressive. You're going to try to be aggressive in ways … I tell our analytics guys this all the time: Whether you go for it on fourth down, or whether you go for two, or whatever it is you do, it's not a matter of being a plus-4% chance of winning the game. It's not a matter of a 65% chance as opposed to a 35% chance. All those numbers they give you, it's 100% you get it or 100% you don't get it. It's a win or it's a loss, and that's why it's never going to be about analytics; it's going to be about making a decision in the heat of battle, and I believed, in those two situations, that we were going to convert those plays."
The decision to take a survey and not be more decisive, is that something you maybe wouldn't do in the future? (Jerry Coleman)"No, I'm always taking surveys. I mean, I knew what I was going to do. I already knew I was going to go for it, but some of that is you build a little consensus around what you're doing, you get some belief. If I had all the guys … If I had said something, and I had gotten this look (appears shocked) – if had gotten that look – I might have rethought it. But you do want to get a little buy-in, a little belief, a little, 'Hey, let's do it, let's get fired up, let's go make this happen.' I think that's part of the leadership piece."
There's a number of unrestricted free agents on the defensive line and offensive line, with C Bradley Bozeman. Does that pose a challenge to how you're going to prepare in the offseason, as far as personnel and what you're going to have back? (Todd Karpovich)"[It poses a] big challenge. It's not something that gets answered until, really, they go to the market. At this point in time, guys go to the market – that's what happens – so we're just going to have to see how that plays out. The guys you're talking about are good players. I'd love to have those guys back. We've got a number of guys … I always want them all back – that's the problem – I want them all back, but you've got to prioritize, and it's more than one factor, it's more than … Yes, the roster is like … As a coach, you look at the roster, but from a bigger-picture standpoint, you've got to understand the cap ramifications of all those guys, the contract issues. Can you get somebody else in free agency? Is there going to be a cap casualty? Is this a good area in the draft? Who are we going to get in the draft and at what spot? So, those are the things you really spend a lot of time looking at – in terms of prioritizing how you spend that money – and that's something that [executive vice president & general manager] Eric [DeCosta], and [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome], [vice president of football administration] and Nick [Matteo] and the crew, [senior vice president of football operations] Pat [Moriarty], they all do that. So, we'll see how it plays out."
How do you assess the need along the offensive line when you're hoping to get T Ronnie Stanley back at full strength? How do you kind of look at that with the hope and expectation that you get Ronnie back at full strength, and how does that affect the rest of the offensive line? (Garrett Downing)"I think it's critically important. To me, the offensive line is really, really important. It's the basis … I believed that in 2008; I believed that when my dad told me that, probably, in about 1972. You win and lose in the trenches, and that's where it starts. Yes, you've got to have playmakers, the quarterbacks are kind of important – you're seeing that this weekend – but no skill player can do anything without the lines in front of them doing that work. So, to me, and in our offense especially, it's just critically important that we have a really good offensive line, so, yes, Ronnie [Stanley] is a big part of that. Kevin Zeitler – gosh, did he do a good job. What a great signing for us. And then we've got some young guys at guard coming along. Ben Cleveland played really well the last game – that was good to see. Ben Powers played well until he got hurt at the end. And then Tyre [Phillips] we've just got to keep Tyre healthy. Every time he starts to gain momentum, something happens. [He's] a very talented guy, but he needs time on task, and if he does, what's going to happen with him? So, I'm just kind of going through guys. What's going to happen with Alejandro [Villanueva]? Where is he at? What's his feeling right now? He played probably his two best games [in] the last two games [of the season]."
Looking back at the tackling or lack of tackling, what was the contributing factor to that? Was it coaching up these guys, or was it the lack of fundamentals or things of that nature? (Kevin Richardson)"So many things go into it. We really just had issues early in the season, especially. It got better towards the end, and some young guys did a better job with their angles and just understanding the basic … It starts with understanding the basic angles. For a run play, when the ball is handed off, first of all, I've got to understand my gap control up front, I've got to understand my edge control. I've got to control an edge on the front side and the back side. I've got to understand a cut-back play, I've got to understand a reverse or an end-around, I've got to understand what boots are all about. Those are all back-side, edge-types of plays. And then from a linebacker standpoint, you've got to understand it's not just about the scheme, it's about your relationship to that running back. [Just] because scheme is telling me wide zone, doesn't mean I'm running out there (points outward); the back might be running down here (points inward) and cutting to the back, and we started to learn those things. Or in the passing game, if I'm out here in space, I've got to understand, is it an inside-out angle? Is it an outside-in angle? I've got to maintain that relationship to a near hip or to a near shoulder, but not doing it in a way where I'm breaking down and giving the guy five yards to make me miss; doing it in an aggressive way where I drop my weight, and I run through and I make the tackle aggressively, on time. Are my eyes in the right place? If I'm playing zone coverage, am I staring at a receiver, and I don't see the ball thrown over here? Am I staring at the quarterback, and I don't understand there are routes around me? Or am I starting to get a comprehensive understanding of how to relate to passes and be in the right spot to go make a tackle?
"Screens – the Colts hit us with a screen that just was a killer. It was a 70-yard screen that went for a touchdown to a really good running back [Jonathan Taylor], but we didn't have a topper on that thing. We didn't have anybody pointing to that screen. So, if you don't have somebody pointing the screen, you can get kicked out, you get kicked in, and there's a crease. So, there's a lot that goes to it, but it's really not that complicated. And having our guys understand that and doing it day in and day out is what coaching is. So, the fact that we weren't good at it, that's our responsibility. That's how I look at it. It starts with me as a coach. It's my job to make sure that we're good at the fundamentals, and we've got to set up practice that way and make sure our guys understand the basics. And if we do that, we're around the ball in the right spot, we make the tackles we're supposed to make."
The young quarterbacks in the AFC and in the playoffs, in particular, they're doing things to extend plays, and they have the arm talent and all that. Is there anything, philosophically, you're looking at in building the team to try to stop those guys? You have to get through those guys. What are your thoughts watching them and the way that they've evolved? The level of play there is astounding. (Pete Gilbert)"It is. I mean, it is, and that's it. Especially in the AFC – the AFC is the quarterback conference right now, and you saw it the last two weeks, so that's what we've been dealing with. We did a number of things schematically; we had some two-level rushes, some four-man, two-level rushes, where we called it … It's a little bit of a spy, but it's more of a second-level rush guy that kind of is going to react to the quarterback and try to keep the quarterback from splitting a four-man rush. I saw a lot of four-man rushes get split for big yards and really change games throughout the playoffs here so far, so that's big. We did a lot of things where we're taking away receivers, taking away initial reads and then adding a guy into the rush late – a fourth rusher or a fifth rusher late. Those things helped us down the stretch. So, there's things that you can do, but at the end, it really comes down to some athletic, fast guys on the field that can get to the quarterback, or that on the second level, can break and go tackle the quarterback once he starts to go – can chase a guy down, can retrace. I look at Pittsburgh; one of the good things they do is retrace rushes between [T.J.] Watt and [Cameron] Heyward. They do a great job of retracing. I think that's something that they've made a point of with Lamar [Jackson]. That's something that we look at. We've got to get better at that, too. So, all those little elements go into it, but I think it's a way bigger part of the game than it used to be, as you're saying."
The way that you have constructed your roster and the team over the last few years is focused on a strong running attack. How concerned are you that you might be going against the grain a bit, when the league as a whole seems to be very pass heavy, and you have two high-flying offenses like the Rams and the Bengals in the Super Bowl? And how have you made adjustments to focus more on the pass as you've progressed the last couple of years? (Kyle Barber)"We've worked hard at that. Our pass offense, statistically, was a lot better this year than it was the year before. But you've got to build your offense around the players that you have. These teams are running the ball really well, too, so just to say that they're passing teams is really not true. All through the playoffs, all those teams ran the ball well – a lot of it is quarterback runs, which is a big dynamic for us. A lot of our run offense this year was quarterback runs, and it was the last two years. But the schemed-up run game, that's probably something that we have been the top team at. That's something that we made a big point of the last couple years, and it's something that really fell off this year, so it's an important element for us. How big of a piece is it going forward? That's what we've got to decide. It's going to be a big piece. But is it going to be as big of a piece as it was in '19, say, as Lamar [Jackson] progresses as a quarterback? No, I don't think it will be. It will be a piece, and people are going to have to contend with it and deal with it, but it won't be as big as it was that year. So, that's hopefully an evolution that we make as our players grow."
How was the conversation with your brother, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, when you called him to bring defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald back to the Ravens after he had a tremendous year calling plays for Michigan? (David Andrade)"Yes, well he said, 'Sure, no problem.' (laughter) He was great about it. But he was great about it, actually, and it was a good experience for [defensive coordinator] Mike [Macdonald], I think. That's something we'll talk more about Wednesday, I'm sure, when Mike gets up here, but it was a good experience – just kind of the way it worked out – and now [Michigan head coach] Jim [Harbaugh] is looking for a defensive coordinator, and I'm sure he'll find a great one."
In all the years that you've been coaching, with the two-point conversions, have you ever had a player say, "No, coach, don't do that?" (Mike Preston)"No, I never have, never have. It's a great point. Guys want to be aggressive, and I think your point is really – if I'm understanding it right – a great point. That's the coach's responsibility to temper that. And there's been lots of times where guys want to go for two where I'm not going for two, and I'm just looking at guys like (scoffs). There are times when [Justin Tucker] wants to kick a 58-, 62-yard field goal in the middle of the game where I'm laughing at him – come on, man – also. But if you've got the right kind of players, you're right, you want those guys to want to have the ball in their hand and make plays. So, that's why I say, 'If it doesn't work, as a coach, I feel like it wasn't the right call.'"
Speaking of two-point plays and overtime, people were howling after that Chiefs-Bills game. Are you going to try to that spot-and-choose method again, and do you still think overtime is broken? (Bo Smolka)(laughter) "It's funny, they're going to do spot-and-choose in the Pro Bowl, I guess. For the opening kickoff, they're only going to have one kickoff, [and] they're going to do spot-and-choose. I had to get that through the back door. Someone kind of leaked that to me out of the league office, which is appreciated. So, I don't know if they really care what I think, but the idea is a great idea, and we'll see."
As you assess your own team to build the best you can, you also look at your competition. You face Cincinnati twice a year, and you've seen what they've done in the playoffs. As you construct your team, what do you think of them and what they pose going forward, if they're building with the young quarterback? (Mark Viviano) "It's a great point. You take into account your division first, and for us that's been, over the years, Pittsburgh, and then Cincinnati, over the years, has been something we've had to contend with if you look back, and then Cleveland now, the last two years, three years, has kind of come on. So, those are the three teams that you look at first, and you say, 'We have to build a team that can contend with and beat those teams.' So, Cincinnati is the champ. They're the defending AFC North Champ next year, coming in, [and] they might be World Champions, and they deserve every accolade they get, and they're well built. They've got a really good team, they're talented, they've got a great quarterback, obviously, they've got great receivers. The defense … I knew the defense was good from playing them. We knew it. That's a heck of a defense, and [defensive coordinator] Coach [Lou] Anarumo has done a great job with the way he's built that thing. [They're] very confident, they've got guys who can cover, they've got a front that can stop the run, they've got pass rushers, they've got tackling inside linebackers. So, right now, that's the standard, but it's not just them; it's Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is still going to be Pittsburgh – you can bet on that. And the Browns … The Browns are a very talented team. They won a bunch of games this year, and you play them, you line up against them, you're standing up there, you're watching them, and you're like, 'Woah, that's a talented football team out there – a dangerous football team.' So, I think our division is really good, and we're going to have to measure up. We're going to have to do it. Scheme-wise, talent-wise, how we organize practices, how we lift weights, everything, we've got to bring it this year, for sure."
One of the biggest criticisms of the passing offense is you'll see some plays where two guys end up five yards away from each other, making them a lot easier to defend. What was a symptom of that, or what led to that, and what changes do you see going forward? (Jonas Shaffer) "That's a good point. And you watch it and say, 'What's the reason for that?' And there were times when we had guys doing the wrong thing, for sure – there's no doubt about it. There were a couple fourth-down plays this year – critical fourth-down conversions – that didn't happen, and we had a receiver run the wrong route, and that's just not OK. Internally, we deal with that, and we deal with it, and it's something that has to improve, because those are critical situations in the games. Other times, it's a little bit of a function of the way our offense operates, because we have some creativity and some latitude in our pass game. You've got Mark Andrews out there, you've got Marquise Brown, you've got Lamar Jackson and Tyler Huntley – they're more creative players. It's not always a rhythm, timing-type of a passing attack that you look at and you go, 'Oh, it makes sense. Boom – that's when the ball is out and the ball is supposed to go.' You watch the same things with the Chiefs, I think. You'll see guys in the same area a lot of times, because plays start to extend and guys end up in the same spot, or there are times when we give our guys latitude to adjust their route. So, we might be running a seam route, and sometimes it's a seam route, where we're running for speed, we're going to put pressure on the two safeties, and it's a speed-seam route. But there are other times we have choices built into those seam routes, where they give us over-the-top coverage, and there's a hole in there, we'll let Mark, or Marquise or one of the other guys sit down into a hole, and Lamar likes that. So, when you do that, when you build a little more latitude in there, there's going to be times where it doesn't look quite as it does on paper as you want it to, and sometimes that's good, and sometimes it's not good, but we do try to define when we're allowed to do that and when we're not. And I think the better we get at understanding [that], between the quarterback and the receiver, when we're running the line and when we've got some creativity built in – make sure we understand that and rep that a lot – the better we're going to be."